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No 'Banned in Boston' for Mapplethorpe photo exhibit

By JAMES UPTON

BOSTON -- The controversial exhibition of photographs by the late Robert Mapplethorpe opened Wednesday to cheers from supporters who outnumbered critics seeking to ban the exhibit in Boston.

About 150 supporters of the exhibit, some carrying signs saying 'No Censorship' and 'Free Speech,' rallied outside the Institute of Contemporary Art as some opponents called for its closing after viewing it for themselves.

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'I'm nauseous,' said Evelyn Dubel, president the First Amendment Common Sense Alliance, a coalition of religious and political conservatives favoring legal action, as she emerged from the ICA. 'The exhibit was patently obscene and should be prosecuted by the attorney general and the district attorney.'

Another opponent, M. Rita Burke, president of the Massachusetts chapter of Morality in Media, said the photos contributed to the AIDS crisis by 'promoting promiscuity.' She called Mapplethorpe 'the star seducer.'

'God always forgives. Man sometimes forgives. Nature never forgives. He (Mapplethorpe) died of AIDS. What more can I say?' Burke said.

The photographer died from complications of the deadly virus at Boston's New England Deaconess Hospital in 1989. The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation has contributed $300,000 to an AIDS research center at the hospital in his name.

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At Wednesday's openng, visitors who enjoyed the show, 'Robert Mapplethorpe: The Perfect Moment,' greatly outnumbered its critics.

A steady line of nearly 100 people stood outside waiting to see the 120 works, most of which are portraits of artists and dancers and still lifes of flowers. The most controversial photos, depicting sadomasochistic homosexual acts, are exhibited apart from the others.

'I thought it was magnificent, probably the most exciting photo exhibit I've ever seen,' said Nancy Ferranti, of Arlington. 'The flowers were stirring and the relationship between the lady in the white ballgown dancing with the black man I just thought was beautiful.'

Her husband, Tony Ferranti, 66, said he came to the exhibit 'because no one was going to tell me what I could or could not see.'

'The variety of pictures was magnificent. The picture of the two old people on a bench was beautiful. If you were to listen to the media and some members of the City Council, you would think you were going to a porno show,' Ferranti said.

'Certainly some of the homoerotic stuff just looked painful and I didn't understand it, but it didn't offend me,' he said.

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Stacy Poitras, 22, a wood sculptor from Plymouth, said critics of the exhibit have only heightened interest in it. 'So in the end they defeat themselves,' he said.

Museum officials said the show, which runs through Oct. 4, was sold out for the rest of the week. Extra security guards were hired 'to ensure the safety and comfort of viewers,' said curator David Ross.

Stephen Mindich, chairman of the Phoenix Media Communications Group, which has spent more than $50,000 to help sponsor the exhibit, said his company has received bomb threats for its support of the show.

Supporters of the show, some of whom were AIDS activists from the group ACT UP, often shouted down critics speaking with the media. But police said no one was arrested.

An artists' group called the Boston Coalition for Freedom of Expression marched with a 15-foot high Statue of Liberty and carried a casket labeled 'casualties of censorship' filled with such books as George Orwell's 'Animal Farm' and J.D. Salinger's 'Catcher in the Rye,' both of which have been targets of conservative groups who consider them obscene. Coalition members shouted 'Hip, hip hooray for the ICA' as they marched.

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The First Amendment Common Sense Alliance said it had no immediate plans to hold demonstrations at the exhibit but said it would urge state Attorney General James Shannon to take legal action against the museum.

Shannon spokeswoman Mary Breslauer said the attorney general stood by his earlier statement that the exhibit 'does not fall within the definition of obscenity in our state law.'

Mayor Raymond Flynn has also said the city plans no legal action against the exhibit.

When the exhibit opened in Cincinnati in April, the Contemporary Arts Center and its director were indicted on obscenity charges. A trial has been set for September.

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